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Revision as of 13:10, 15 March 2008

For other places with the same name, see Darwin (disambiguation).

Darwin [4] is a small yet cosmopolitan city of approximately 110,000 people located on the Timor Sea (a branch of the Indian Ocean) in north-central Australia. Darwin is the capital city of the Northern Territory.

The city is notable amongst the capital cities for its history of major disasters. Its tropical climate has seen it regularly subjected to heavy thunderstorms. Major cyclones have occurred approximately once every three decades. Much of the city was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Darwin is also the only Australian capital city to have come under substantial attack during a war. On 19 February, 1942, Japanese planes made two major air raids on Darwin from the aircraft carrier fleet that had attacked Pearl Harbor less than 3 months earlier. These were the first of 64 air attacks experienced by the city during World War II, the last being on 12 November, 1943. (Other areas in northern Queensland and northern Western Australia were also bombed by Japanese aircraft.)

Today Darwin is a fast growing regional centre, important to Australian military, tourism and mining.


As one of the most isolated of Australia's capital cities, Darwin has a history and heritage unique unto itself.

The earliest European efforts to settle the 'Top End' were mainly due to British fears that other European powers might get a toehold on the Australian continent. Between 1824 and 1829 Fort Dundas on Melville Island and Fort Wellington on the Cobourg Peninsula, 200 km (124 mi) northeast of Darwin, were settled and then abandoned.

The explorer Ludwig Leichardt reached Port Essington overland from Brisbane in 1845, increasing government interest in the Top End. The entire region came under South Australia's administration in 1863, and more ambitious development plans were made. in 1864, a small settlement was established at Escape Cliffs on the mouth of the Adelaide River, not too far from Darwin's present location. This was abandoned, however, in 1866. Darwin itself was finally founded in 1869 - the harbour had been discovered back in 1839 by John Lort Stokes aboard the Beagle, who named it Port Darwin after former shipmate, Charles Darwin. The city itself was at first called Palmerston (after the British Prime Minister at the time), but this was finally changed to Darwin in 1911.

After a slow beginning, Darwin's development was greatly accelerated by the discovery of gold at Pine Creek, about 200 km (124 mi) south of the city in 1871. After the gold rush, Darwin's growth slowed, mainly due to the harsh, tropical climate, distance and poor communications with other Australian cities.

The Second World War put Darwin back on the map when the town became an important base for Allied action against the Japanese in the Pacific. The road south to the railhead at Alice Springs was surfaced, finally putting the city in direct contact with the rest of the country. Darwin was bombed 64 times during the war and over 243 people lost their lives; it was the only locality in Australia to suffer prolonged air attack - on the 19 February 1942, for example, 242 Japanese warplanes attacked Darwin. The attack killed at least 243 people and caused immense damage to the town.

By 1974, Darwin was a growing settlement with a population of 48,000 that was developing new suburbs. Early on Christmas morning of that year, however, Cyclone Tracy passed over Darwin, killing 69 people in six hours (including 16 at sea) and flattening over 70% of the city.

Modern Darwin is one of Australia's most cosmopolitan cities, more open to Asia than perhaps any other Australian city. It plays an important role as the front door to Australia's northern region and as a centre for administration and mining. The port facilities have recently had a major upgrade, and the completion in September 2003 of a railway link to Alice Springs and Adelaide has locals hoping Darwin will become the continent's transport hub with Southeast Asia.

The world could take a leaf from Darwin's multiculturalism. Many diffent cultures are present in Darwin and all live in harmony. Each culture is celebrated at the Mindil Beach Markets each week where a visitor can sample food from many different cultures and eat it at the most spectacular seaside sunset you will ever see.

Darwin is, more than anything else, a backpackers paradise. The level of family-related tourism is low and the landscape remains, for the most part, as it was long before European settlement. Natural wonders such as Kakadu, Katherine Gorge, and Litchfield are all within driving distance from the city and still contain near pre-colonial populations of crocodiles, goannas, snakes and wallabies. It would not be a stretch to call Darwin itself "Australia's best kept secret" with its picturesque tropical beaches, excellent night clubs, unique dining, cosmopolitan atmosphere, and near unmatched wildlife viewing opportunities.

Get in

By plane

  • Darwin International Airport [5] is situated 13 km north-east of the city. The are direct flights to most Australian state capitals, Northern Territory destinations, as well as destinations in northern Western Australia. There are international flights to Bali, Singapore and elsewhere.

By road

The Stuart Highway is the only highway into Darwin; heading directly into the city centre and extending southwards all the way to Alice Springs (about 1,500 km) and Adelaide (3,042 km, or 1,886 mi).

By train

The Ghan [6]] is a tourist train that crosses the continent from Adelaide to Darwin twice a week. It is invariably more expensive than flying, but it is a journey for those who enjoy train travel, or who want to bring their car without the hassle of driving. There are transfers in Adelaide from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. You can also transfer your car from any of these origins. The train line to Darwin was built relatively recently, and was designed primarily for freight. The terminus for the train is near the deep water port at East Arm, approximately 7km from the city centre; on the other side of Frances Bay, take a taxi, or get your accommodation to arrange a pickup for you. There is no public transport to the train station.

Get around

In Darwin you will find a wide variety of tour services to suit every taste. Driving is probably the best way to see Darwin, as many of the sights are spread out, and parking and traffic are not a worry.

There is a public bus service [7], which is useful for accessing areas close to the city. The services are more frequent closer to the central area where the routes overlap. The buses are air-conditioned.


In Darwin itself you should take a look at:

  • Fannie Bay Gaol, East Point Road, Fannie Bay. 10:30am until 4pm. An aboriginal warrior called Nemarluk once escaped from here and swam across Darwin Harbour free.
  • East Point reserve, [1]. Go near dawn or dusk to see Agile Wallabies.
  • George Brown Botanical Gardens, (Geranium Street off the Stuart Highway), [2]. 7am to 7pm. free.
  • Casuarina Coastal Reserve.
  • Charles Darwin National Park.
  • Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) [8], Bullocky Point (Darwin Harbour), free admission, open Mo-Fr 9am-5pm, Sa-Su + public holidays 10am-4pm,closed Christmas, Boxing Day, New Years Day and Good Friday, tel 08 8999 6573, fax 08 8981 7625 - set on a tropical garden on Darwin Harbour is this, the Northern Territory's premier cultural institution. The MAGNT collections place the region's art, history and culture, and natural history in an Australian and international context through research, interpretation and collection development. These collections encompass Aboriginal art and material culture, visual arts, craft, Southeast Asian and Oceanic art and material culture, maritime archaeology, Northern Territory history and natural sciences. The MAGNT complex consists of five major permanent galleries, a touring gallery, educational facilities for school groups, a theatre, the Museum Shop and the Cornucopia Museum Cafe. All contribute to providing an entertaining, diverse and educational experience for the local community and visitors to Darwin. Marvel at the giant Salwater Crocodile known as "Sweetheart" who was responsible for attacking multiple boats in the 1970s, the 18 foot Crocodile is now on display in the museum.
  • Crocosaurus Cove, (Mitchell St), [3]. Planned opening in March 2008.


  • Doctors Gully Fish Feeding -- yes, you feed the fish by hand and they're not little fishies, so luckily they don't bite hard! Feeding is dependent on the tide, so call for the schedule.
  • Mindil Beach Market - An open air market each Thursday night (just north of downtown). It is only on during the dry season.
  • Crocodylus Park - Only 5 minutes drive from the airport, the park is home to more than a thousand crocodiles. It also houses exotic birds, primates, big cats and lizards. Children under 4 years have free entry.
  • Darwin Crocodile Farm[9] -- Over 10,000 crocodiles at this breeding farm. definitely a good place to see crocodiles from a safe distance.
  • An Adelaide River Jumping Crocodile Cruise to get up close and personal to the crocs. Stop at the Humpty Doo Hotel on the way to Adelaide River and sample the cold beer on offer
  • The Mary River National Park is not a long drive from Darwin and the adjacent Corroboree and Yellow Water billabongs are home to the biggest in size and highest concentration of saltwater crocodiles in the world.


  • Top End Gold Honey - local honey from around the Northern Territory. The flavours vary according to the seasons with a unique taste at every time of year.


Darwin offers a variety of excellent dining choices. Some exceptional diners include:

  • The Tap [10] in the middle of Mitchell Street. Sit down and relax and watch the world walk by.
  • Ducks Nuts on Mitchell St.
  • Pee Wees [11] in the East Point Nature Preserve
  • Kozy Cafe on Mitchell St.
  • Energy2Go for healthy fast food
  • Shennanigan's [12] at Mitchell St. and Peel St., for pub-style food and live music
  • Hanuman[13] at the end of Mitchell St, near Crowne Plaza. Thai, Indian and Malaysian dishes with local ingredients. For the food lover.

Cullen Bay offers some fine Marina-side restaurants with outside dining at some if you wish.




  • Melaleuca Backpackers [14] 52 Mitchell St, Phone 1300 723 437 or +61 8 8941 7800
  • Value Inn [15] 50 Mitchell St, Phone +61 8 8981 4733
  • Globetrotters Lodge YHA 97 Mitchell St, 08 8981 5385 (08 8981 3353 [16]) $20.50 to $27.50 for a dorm per person. $73.50 to $94.00 for a room per person.
  • Frogshollow Backpackers 27 Lindsay St, Darwin NT 0800 08 8941 2600 (toll free: 1800 068 686, fax: 08 8941 0758 [17]) Dorm 1 Person $17.00 to $25.00 Daily /$105.00 to $140.00 Weekly; Room Only 2 Persons $55.00 to $68.00 Daily
  • Gecko Lodge 146 Mitchell St, +61 8 8981 5569 [18] [19] Dorm 1 Person $17.00 to $24/Room: €$50-$65
  • Stella Maris Seafarers Centre, Darwin 1 McMinn Street, (mobile: +61 4 0059 0279 [20]) $20/night or $100/week for a single room.
  • YMCA of Darwin Doctors Gully, +61 8 8981 8377 [21] Single room: $25.00/night, from $120/week
  • The Wilderness Lodge 88 Mitchel St. $24 a night.


  • Crowne Plaza Darwin 32 Mitchell St, 1300 666 545 (1800 891 107. fax: 08 8981 1765 [22]) Bed and Breakfast 2 persons per night costs $159.00 to $250.00.
  • Holiday Inn Esplanade Darwin The Esplanade. 08 8980 0800 (1300 666 747, fax 08 8980 0888 [23]) $149.00 to $230.00 per night

Stay Safe

Malaria does not exist in or around Darwin and during the peak of the dry season (the preferred traveling season) Mosquitos are still present though in areas where there is water. Bring a DEET based repellant, as this will also work on sandflys.

The dreaded Box Jellyfish is a potentially deadly beach hazard between the months of October and May, but less so during the peak travel season. When swimming at local beaches, even in the 'safe' season of June to September, bring vinegar and pour it over the wound if stung. Transport to hospital is a must as the venom of the Box Jellyfish can be deadly - remember CPR!.

Crocodiles are very common in waterways, but are only occasionally found on public beaches. The local newspaper loves a good crocodile story. If a crocodile is nearby to a public place it will be often in the local media.

There are safe swimming areas in and around Darwin, but caution should always be practiced- if you are even the slightest bit unsure about an area DO NOT SWIM. A 6 meter crocodile can lie completely invisible for more than 2 hours in less than 2 feet of water, so unless an area has been deemed safe by the local wildlife management, you'd be best to leave it alone. A check with the NT Parks and Wildlife Service will reveal which parks are open, and which are open with swimming prohibited.

Get out

Darwin provides a base for day trips to explore the 'Top End' of the Northern Territory.

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